Thursday, July 24, 2014 || By Michael Romain
MAYWOOD–“Behind you, we’re creating a mobile phone repair station,” said Sy Bounds–Maywood resident, former disk jockey, techie and teacher. He was pointing to a booth near the doorway of his Madison Street base of operations. Bounds’ world of gadgets and apps is an extension of the Global Business Center, located next door. The Center, owned and operated by Maywood resident Vena Nelson, provides small businesses in the area with temporary office space, printing services, a conference room, Wi-Fi access and Sy Bounds’ brain for those entrepreneurs wanting to expand their digital footprints. They can even go to Nelson, an accountant by trade, for financial services and advice.
For Nelson and Bounds, the goal is to offer wraparound support, guidance and nurturing to people whose professional ambitions may go beyond a cubicle and a time clock. But in addition to small businesses and entrepreneurs, Bounds sees his space as a lab of sorts for area children–many of whom may be hip to Facebook, Twitter and blogs, but clueless about how to leverage those technologies into careers. He wants to offer classes to teach people–young and old–that the internet can be about more than leisure and consumption–it can also be about producing dreams.
“Our community really doesn’t understand social media,” Bounds said one afternoon last month. He was leaned back in front of a computer station in his space of exploration. A large projector screen in the background and several computer monitors anchored throughout the space gave the room a heady vibe, as if we were in on some top-secret Silicon Valley project. The space is an extension of Bounds himself, whose perspective on most things is filtered through technology.
“My core class right now is going to be about digital citizenship,” he said. “That’s what most of us are right now, but we don’t know that. There are rules and regulations that apply and will get more pronounced as time goes on. As a community, we’re using these tools and we don’t understand the science of them.”
Bounds, 69, wasn’t always this technologically deep. For 3 1/2 years, he hosted a radio show out of Triton College called “Sy’s Creative World,” where his playlist spanned genres, continents and eras–from Brazilian Jazz to Broadway show tunes. While at Triton one day, he wandered into the college computer lab, saw the equipment and became curious.
“I began asking how to use the computers. That’s when I began to understand the largeness of computers,” he said. His life was changed.
He said that he was first introduced to the worlds of Google Plus and WordPress and Blogger and Twitter by Dr. Barbara Iverson, the co-founder and co-publisher of the news website Chicago Talks and associate professor of journalism at Columbia College Chicago.
“Barbara is the Arianna Huffington of Chicago media,” Bounds said. “She started the legendary Chicago Blogger Meetups, which were informal classes at Columbia that were very lively and full of brilliant people. I was a founding member. We put Twitter on the table when it first came out. Nobody knew about it.”
He said that, from that point on, he began evolving, expanding his awareness and knowledge. It wasn’t long before he felt the urge to share what he knew. The desire has taken him all over the Chicagoland area.
“I’ve taught innovative blogging for After School Matters, the first and only blogging class with that organization,” Bounds said. “I did a lot of work in Humboldt Park and all over the West Side. In 2011, I did community outreach for Chicago Google, creating digital outreach programming for nonprofits all over the city. A lot has transpired since those early days, but the literacy still isn’t there in our community.”
In Maywood, Bounds hopes to use his space to open residents, young and old, to the possibilities of social media. He has lots of plans, perhaps the most intriguing of which is what he calls neighborhood technology navigators, young people who will take the technology and digital media training they receive from Bounds and teach those skills to older people and other residents in the community who lack digital literacy. He and Nelson envision the small complex of human talent, business resources and technological capacity they’ve created on the corner of 17th and Madison as a business/technology park for Maywood. And this is just the start. They want to see it grow and evolve into a place renowned for solving problems.
“They’ll be a number of students here, because I’m interested in young people, older people, seniors, budding entrepreneurs, veterans,” Bounds said. “This digital accelerator will help a lot of people. Ultimately it’s a think tank. It’s about creating solutions.”
It’s an ambitious project, but Bounds may be its greatest walking testimony. When asked how he was able to climb the digital learning curve so quickly at his age, he lit up, as if he was expecting the question all along.
“It’s never too late,” he said. “I have a real problem with people who complain about being old and retired. Retirement is the best time.” VFP